A warning: diminishing cooperation is a sign of short-sightedness

Date 13.01.2021

It should come as no surprise: COVID-19 has cast a long shadow over bilateral and multilateral cooperation, risking further erosion of international development efforts. At a moment when humanity is battling an unforgiving pandemic – the most global of threats – the temptation for shortsighted policy is all too real. In such times, it is important to combat myopic approaches and offer an alternative, longer-term vision.

Even before the pandemic, the world was affected by dangerous polarisation and declining support for development cooperation and multilateralism. And yet we know that around the world most people – irrespective of their nationality, culture, political orientation, age or sex – share a fundamental recognition of the power of working together to face the daunting challenges of tomorrow, which are borderless by nature.

As communities battle the shock and mayhem brought about by the pandemic, let us be clear: in a world as interconnected as ours, there will be no recovery for those in the global North who seek to insulate themselves, ignoring the plight of the South. In fact, given the circumstances, the wisest expression of self-interest could well be solidarity. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the threat of climate change, has made global cooperation today more necessary than ever.

If anything, we expect the challenges of the future to be even more intertwined than those of the past. They will require more, not less, multilateralism. And yet, as we struggle to grapple with an ever-growing array of threats to our society’s core stability, the pandemic has not only exposed the fragility and failures of the international system but has also highlighted the merits of greater synergies.

With political and economic systems facing deep uncertainties and global supply chains increasingly fragmented, we are presented with a unique opportunity to reimagine development cooperation and global partnerships.

To do so, the very concept of development cooperation must be fundamentally rethought. The donor/recipient parameters should morph into a much more dynamic relationship. If wisely managed, development cooperation funds could become a formidable vehicle to harness this redefined relationship, breathing new vitality even into domestic economies and their productivity.

At AVSI, we follow a methodology that places the value of the person at the centre of our work. An individual should never be defined by the circumstances in which s/he lives. Rather, it is important to adopt a more holistic approach, considering the family and community context. We believe in a process where we accompany, but also let ourselves be accompanied, recognising that we all share the same human experience. These guiding principles can be the cornerstone of future development cooperation.

As an organisation founded in Italy, we believe that the country has a vital role to play in this regard. To this end, it could contribute to a new development framework for international recovery. This will require prevailing over unhelpful divisions and harnessing the vibrant energies of society. The private sector’s ingenuity and famed flair for imaginative enterprise; the academic tradition for ingenious research; civil society’s eminent record for successful social service initiatives; the competitive financial intermediation services; the diverse potential of local institutions, and much more make up the core fabric of society.

None of this, however, should be taken for granted. The national government still needs to contribute to a genuine spirit of cohesion, establish a level playing field and offer a modern system of public goods that can meet the challenges ahead. This must be accompanied by a political commitment to lead internationally rather than retrench locally.

On a European level, an agreement has just been reached for the next Multiannual Financial Framework, the 2021 Budget and the new instrument of international cooperation. These present us with a modern framework within which to articulate concrete priorities for an economic recovery where power, resources and opportunities are better shared at the global level. Now is the time for leaders to decide: will we succumb to divisions and inequality or will we join forces together, overcome the failures of the past and usher a new era of progress and prosperity for all?

In these most uncertain of times, we do not know what lies ahead of us. But we do know which side of history we must be on.